What do you see in a declining church?
Dr. Bob Lowman, Executive Director, MBA
There are some things we like to see, things that are positive, good, exciting, encouraging. The sight of a declining church is really none of those things. For many years, churches did not want to admit they were declining, and would not even talk about it.
Thankfully, those days are gone for many churches. Decline is still a reality, but congregations are actually acknowledging their situations and are asking what can be done to help a church move from decline to revitalization. For example, in my first few years of working with our association one church asked us to consult with them on revitalization. Last year 20 of our declining churches asked us to evaluate their situation and coach them through the revitalization process.
The numbers are significant: More than 80 percent of churches are either plateaued or declining. That means at least 8 out of every 10 churches is not growing. In recent years we have said that we have declining and seriously declining churches, with a seriously declining church being one that has lost 50% in average attendance in the past 10 years. Approximately 15% of our declining churches fit this category.
There is always hope for a church in decline, but that hope is based on the congregation realizing the gravity of their situation and deciding to prayerfully act to change that situation by engaging in an intentional revitalization strategy that step by step yields to the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus.
So, if you ask me what I see in a declining church, my answer depends on what a church is doing about their decline. If a church is actively doing something to address their situation, I see hope for that church. If a church is seriously evaluating where they are in terms of Great Commission obedience, there are many reasons to be positive about that church’s future. But if a church is refusing to acknowledge their need, or if a leader in a congregation is blocking any action on a church’s revitalization, it is only a matter of time before that church will close its doors.
One of our churches, Durham Memorial, has acknowledged the decline they have been facing for the past several years, and they now have a vision team that is working to identify their challenges and their options as they look to the future as a church. They are prayerfully considering the options before them and are working to bring to the congregation ideas that can help the church fulfill its Great Commission purpose in a community that desperately needs Jesus. In a recent meeting, I encouraged them to keep up the good work of seeking the Lord and His direction for the church. As far as I know, they are one of very few churches dealing with decline that has an active team specifically assigned to address that need.
The needs are real. Many churches are declining. But there is hope as we trust and follow the Lord – He is still building His church. If your congregation would like to have an honest conversation about where your church is and what the future could look like, please let me know. And, if your church is doing well now and would like to explore ways to work with a declining church, we are ready to connect you with a partnership opportunity, helping another church toward revitalization and Kingdom focus.